Just the Facts: Student Data and Achievement

Decisions should be based on facts, objectively considered. -Marvin Bower

I posted here recently my students’ reading scores.  Obviously, we are excited about them.  Student achievement and closing the achievement gap is our top priority.  School-wide, our MAP (Measurement of Academic Progress) scores are up.  What other positive things are we seeing school-wide?  Most striking is our copy paper expenses dropped $15,000 from last year.  Our number of  copies dropped from 400,000 to just at 100,000.  Teachers are able to reduce paper and copying by using the iPads.  Many are uploading activities as a PDF to a class wiki.  Students access the wiki with iPads, complete the activity in a  PDF annotating app and then either upload to PaperPort or to the district WebDav.  School discipline referrals went from around 400 last year to around 100 this year.   The 3 high schools in our district that are using iPads also see decreases in paper usage, copying, and discipline referrals.  Obviously, something good is going on.

Clearly the iPads are making an impact at my school.  There will always be people who feel the iPads are not worth the investment, or who question the validity of them in the classroom.  I read articles and blogs daily that dismiss iPads in the classroom as a flash in the pan.  Technology changes so rapidly and it is necessary to keep up in today’s global society.  Will iPads be around in 5 years?  I have no idea.  Will there be a better technology out there for the classroom in that time?  Maybe…but if we wait until the “newest, better version” comes out, we won’t ever buy anything.  The laptop I’m typing this blog post on will be discontinued, outdated, replaced or obsolete in less than 5 years.  I guess the way I look at it is whatever the technology is it needs to be engaging and relevant to learning.  In the Stone Age, a broad prehistoric period during which stone was widely used in the manufacture of implements with a sharp edge, or a point, that was some serious technology!  That age lasted about 2.5 million years.  The creation of the wheel, the combustion engine and the first main frame computer were all significant technology advances.  We have to be willing to change with the times.

I have no way of knowing what the long term impact of iPads will be on education.  What I do know right now is that our school data is showing early trends of iPad success.  Behind every number in that data pool is a student with an iPad and that student has a name.  I’m not sure who would be willing to look that child in the face and tell them he or she isn’t worth the investment.  Good teaching is good teaching.  Our data is indicative that iPads in our classrooms is good teaching…on steroids!

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Closing the Achievement Gap: Data and Test Scores

Where’s the Beef?  Show me the money! What’s the bottom line?

In today’s results-oriented, data-driven mentality in education, we all fall under the large accountability umbrella of test scores.  Certainly, there are skeptics who question putting iPads in the hands of young children.  It is asked, “How can we justify the cost of this technology when school budgets and programs are being cut and teachers are being furloughed?”  I too, asked those questions at the beginning of this pilot.  After all, my pay has been decreased from furloughs and no step-increases for experience or cost of living.  My answers came directly from the very people for whom I work…my students.

Let me say that I teach children, not tests.  I want my students to find a love for learning that sustains them for a lifetime.  In a previous post, I described what kind of reader I am.  I want my students to be filled with wonder and inquiry and to find joy in reading and learning.  A commentary written in USA Today states that the goal of education should be to prepare students to be competent and original in their thinking and that focusing on test scores hurts innovation.  When we start focusing on scores, we often stop focusing on innovative teaching methods and divergent thinking. Don’t get me wrong…teaching involves assessment and assessment drives instruction.  The problem comes when we stay focused on the one-dimensional scores and not look at the whole child.  William Arthur Ward states “Wise are those who learn that the bottom line doesn’t always have to be their top priority” Sermon over.

All of that being said, I do understand that the purchase of the iPads was intended to close the achievement gap and raise scores.  So far, they’ve delivered on that.  I’ve been using the iPads for 13 months.  Last school year, we began implementation in late January.  My class results are here.  ipad-data pdf  We were thrilled!  Systematic teaching in Reading and Writing Workshop, along with differentiated instruction with the iPads allowed all 30 of my students to end the school year reading on or above grade level.  This year, with 12 weeks of school remaining, 92% of my students read on a first grade level or higher and the remaining 8% are on grade level. Interesting to note, the 8% are students who came to my class after Christmas from other schools.  They have moved from being non-readers to reading on-grade level in 3 months.

While I don’t solely focus on test scores, I can’t deny the results I am seeing.  These are results that can’t be overlooked.  If good teaching, and iPads as educational tools, result in higher achievement, then how can we argue that our children aren’t worth the investment?